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Dec. 17, 2018
This paid piece is sponsored by the Sioux Falls Development Foundation.
When O’Gorman High School senior Zachary Bain stepped into the shop classroom this year, he barely recognized the space where he had taken classes freshman year.
“That shop has changed completely,” he said. “And it’s awesome.”
It didn’t start out that way. After years of dwindling shop class enrollment and then the departure of its instructor, O’Gorman stopped offering the class, and the room became a storage space.
Then Jeff Rhone, whose kids attend the school and are in the band, started talking with assistant principal Alex Anderson about why the class wasn’t offered. Rhone had been in the classroom helping build sets for the band and offered to teach shop.
“Once we had an instructor, we wanted to start basically all over and re-create the courses,” Anderson said.
That’s when Fiegen Construction stepped forward.
The Sioux Falls general contractor started working with the school to develop a curriculum that would be less about individual student projects and more about teaching the building trade.
“It’s been a great collaboration,” said Lucas Fiegen, company vice president and an O’Gorman graduate.
“We came in, cleaned up the place – a coat of white paint does a lot – and updated the lighting and then also helped out with the purchase of equipment and different resources they could use for the class. There’s clearly a shortage of labor force in the construction industry, and all we’re trying to do is pique some interest in students early.”
They developed two courses: introduction to building construction, which is held this semester, and carpentry, which will come in the spring.
Then, it was time to recruit the students. Fiegen and Rhone talked to the student body about how the courses were designed, but no one quite expected what happened next.
“They had 60 kids sign up for the class. It was an overwhelming response,” Fiegen said. “I think there was a lot of excitement about the program.”
One of them was Bain, who plans to attend Mitchell Technical Institute and learn to be a lineman.
“I did this so I could learn some of the trades. If we have to cut a pole or something, I already know how to do it from this,” he said. “We’re really learning hands-on.”
Senior Olivia Althoff is planning to study architecture but signed up for the course to learn how a building comes together from the ground up.
“I love it. I’ve learned so much,” she said. “I honestly think this is the class where I’ve learned the most this entire year because everything was new to me.”
After initially being a little intimidated by the tools, she has become comfortable in the shop.
“I am fine swinging the hammer. I’ve run the table saw. I have really enjoyed it,” she said. “I’ve been able to pick it up and know what to do with it and get the job done. I will definitely use this knowledge as I go off to college and study in the area.”
After starting with safety lessons and learning how to build a sawhorse, the students moved on to sheds. They’re working on four sheds, including one that will be auction off at the school’s annual fundraiser. The plan is to sell the others and dedicate the sales to the class.
“We are all going to learn every single aspect of building that shed,” Bain said. “It’s not one person doing everything. Everybody is going to help with everything.”
Fiegen also arranged for the students to visit a job site. They toured the new Gage Brothers Concrete Products headquarters in northeast Sioux Falls.
“That’s a nice advantage for our students to have – to take what they’re learning in the classroom and be able to see it in action on a real job site,” Anderson said. “We don’t exist right now, this program, without Fiegen Construction. We’ve had a lot of help from other people, but I can say with great confidence they have been instrumental in helping us.”
Others also have stepped up to support the class, including the Home Builders Association of the Sioux Empire, which provided a grant for the program.
Next semester’s class will focus on interior work, from electrical to drywall and painting.
“Ultimately, we want the students to have access to all sorts of different trades,” Fiegen said. “It’s not just Fiegen Construction looking for workers. It’s everyone in our industry.”
To see more workforce development strategies, read the latest edition of WIN: Workforce Information Now from the Sioux Falls Development Foundation.
When Fiegen Construction learned O’Gorman High School no longer offered shop class, it stepped in to create one that attracted dozens of students.